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Gerald Carpenter: Academy Festival Opens with a Bang and a Whisper

On Monday, a Solo Piano Masterclass launched the 2013 Summer Festival of the Music Academy of the West. Whatever purely social or administrative events may have preceded it, this was the Music Academy getting down to business.

Leading the masterclass was the maestro of maestros, Jerome Lowenthal, who has been a member of the Music Academy faculty since 1970. Articulate, insightful — not to mention a pianist able to bring out the maximum emotional content of a score without compromising its technical parameters — Lowenthal has presided at this unofficial but real opening ceremony for at least three decades.

He will also host the event that bookends the farside of the festival’s first week, the “Piano Fest” ($30), introducing 10 brilliant piano fellows who will then do their level best to take our breath away in a recital at 8 p.m. Friday in Hahn Hall.

Founded in 1947 by famous soprano Lotte Lehmann — with considerable help and advice from the Curtis Institute’s Efrem Zimbalist, as well as her house guest at the time, notable conductor Otto Klemperer — the Music Academy began as and has remained an island of European culture and sensibility in a region (Southern California) not known for its refined tastes.

That is not to say that there was any kind of condescension involved — any sense of sophisticated Europe showing the American rubes how it’s done. To the contrary, the founders of the Music Academy, as well as the entire, astonishing émigré conclave in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara (which included Thomas Mann, Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg), were almost embarrassingly humble in their gratitude. Their home continent had turned toxic, and when they fled to ours, we welcomed them.

Instead of ending their days in the Gulag, or Auschwitz, they found themselves in a kind of Garden of Eden here on the South Coast. They could never repay us in kind, but they had priceless treasures of their own and they eagerly and freely shared them with us. Virtue is its own reward, of course, and we never demanded payment or anything, but we have to consider the Music Academy of the West as one hell of a fringe benefit. (No single history has adequately dealt with the artistic and literary refugees living in Southern California, 1933-45, but Erich Maria Remarque’s beautiful, posthumously-published novel Shadows in Paradise gives an indelible sense of the individual experience of these exiles, and H. Stuart Hughes’s magisterial volume, The Sea Change: the Migration of Social Thought, 1930-1965, precisely illuminates the tremendous influence that the exiled philosophers and scholars had on American intellectual life.)

More than 60 years later, even though the faculty and student body of the Music Academy are overwhelmingly American, the impress of European civilization remains clearly visible — not to mention audible.

The rest of the first week, as with all the weeks that follow, we will have masterclasses led by familiar, beloved faces — Lowenthal, violinist Kathleen Winkler, violist Donald McInnes, pianist Warren Jones, soprano Marilyn Horne and others — as well as many that are less familiar, though also cherished. In a special Vocal Masterclass ($19, $17 students and seniors) at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday in Hahn Hall, the incomparable Horne and the inimitable Jones will introduce the 2013 voice and vocal piano fellows.

As part of a new program, 16 selected string fellows spent the week prior to the festival opening in an intensive String Quartet Seminar led by the the acclaimed Takács Quartet (Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, violins; Geraldine Walther, viola; András Fejér, cello). According to academy literature, the chosen young musicians “will form four separate ensembles, each of which will receive multiple coachings and take part in self-directed rehearsals daily. In addition, participants will live and eat together to learn how outside interpersonal relationships influence a quartet’s internal dynamics.”

Then, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, the four newly minted ensembles will take the stage at Hahn Hall for a gala concert, playing movements of quartets by Beethoven, Brahms, Bartók and Smetana ($30).

At 8 p.m. Thursday, the superb Takács Quartet will itself perform a concert ($50) in Hahn Hall, with a program consisting of works by Franz Josef Haydn (String Quartet in Bb-Major, Opus 76, No. 4; Béla Bartók (String Quartet No. 1 in a-minor, Opus 7); and Johannes Brahms (String Quartet in a-minor, Opus 51, No. 2.

Reserved seats to Music Academy events charging admission can be purchased by phone at 805.969.8787 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are his own.

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